Friday, January 19, 2007

The Art of the Retoucher

In business, it pays to hire a professional, and the value of a retoucher canot be underestimated. Yes, many of us do it ourselves, but that's often like asking uncle Joe to take photos at your wedding. Hire a professional retoucher when you need retouching. Below are a few folks who do an amazing job.

Consider this -- check out Rocket Studio, which did the retouching for the Apple iPod print ads. They show an amazing before and after of the images they did the retouching on, and I would submit that their retouching actually reaches a level that what they have produced is a new derivative work of the original. They further show a variety of different types of retouching.

Amy Dresser also illustrates the critical value of a talented retoucher, doing work ranging from Las Vegas casinos to Time Magazine covers.

Glenn Feron does a service to the retouching community, in that he lists his retouching rate, at $125/hr, with a two hour minimum. For many, who just list their own services, and then don't go into their hourly rate, the figure seems to come out of some secretive formula. By being open about his rates, he is also giving insight into those who aspire to be a retoucher, just what they should be charging at an hourly rate for their services. Feron spends most of his work (at least as demonstrated from his website) in retouching people (including many celebrities), and showing just what he can do for his clients.

In our office, for editorial clients, retouching is verbotten. However, for corporate or commercial clients, retouching is so integral to the final results of the project, that it is not optional. Currently, we are working our way through retouching 38 portraits from a portrait series we did. From things as simple as the removal of fly-away hair in a portrait, to the insertion of a missing executive (or the removal of a recently fired one) from a group portrait, it is a part of the service we provide. Retouching for corporate portraits is not a line item, it's a part of our fees, however, for many commercial assignments (ads, and so on), we do break out the retouching fees as a line item. Sometimes, it's just a few wrinkles, sometimes it's the removal of a double chin, but always, it makes CEO's, attorneys, and others much more comfortable with the final results from a photo shoot.

Many clients compare the bottom line, and do not realize just what we can do for them, or, what we can recommend to them for outsourcing of retouching needs. Every time I demonstrate simple retouching for a client in front of them, they are amazed, and almost always, they say "so that's how all those celebrities on magazine covers look so good", and I say "without question." Countless clients become long-term clients because we can demonstrate just how we will make their staff look great, right infront of them. We explain, however, that whatever we are doing infront of them is just a demonstration, and that we will do the actual, final, best retouching back at our office.

An absolutely amazing example of the value of the retoucher comes courtesy of Dove, the folks who bring you your daily bar of soap. They have available online a video which shows exactly what goes into an ad campaign on their Campaign for Real Beauty website, where they not only show you the shoot, but also, the retoucher, in action. It's a time-lapse video, spanning less than five minutes, but which gives you an understanding that here-to-fore was unknown. Thank you to Dove for these insights into the value that a retoucher brings to the project.

Next time you are preparing an estimate (or scrutinizing one you've received), be certain you understand all that goes into delivering superior-class service so that you an provide (or expect to receive) it.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Rachel Schell said...

great blog!! I've added your link on my blog. :)

MaCanuck said...

Hi John:

Not sure if you're being ironic here or not. If you are, then it's perhaps a little underplayed. If you're not, your take on the campaign for real beauty ad is interesting and more than a little off the mark.

The opening line to the video is:

"All this talk about fashion models and extreme dieting. How did our view of beauty become so distorted."

The close is:

"No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted. Every girl deserves to feel beautiful just the way she is."

It is not glorifying the art of retouching; it is saying that our vision of beauty was created in a computer, and that's a bad thing.

This is a hard issue for me as a portrait photographer; I want to take pictures of people that make them look good. But what is an acceptable level of work that can be put into a picture before you have distorted reality? Is it photoshopping out the zit? The wrinkles? Taking off a few pounds? Stretching the neck? How much is too much? Where do we draw the line? Where am I not letting people be beautiful for who they are, but imposing this vision of retouched beauty on them? And if I do that, am I just showing them how they'd look through the same glasses, or am I reinforcing cultural stereotypes that should be knocked down.

You say "t makes CEO's, attorneys, and others much more comfortable with the final results from a photo shoot," but is that a good thing? And does that really help the situation?

I don't know. And I do it myself. I shot pictures at a wedding where grandma looked like they had dug her up and brought her back just for the wedding, and I retouched the heck out of her. But was it the right thing to do? I don't know. I do find it annoying when I talk to some of the most gorgeous girls you've ever seen and they won't let me take their picture because they hate themselves for not living up to this idealized beauty. But if I were to take and retouch them to live up to this idealized version of beauty, would it be helpful or harmful?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you know wich software did they use in the dove campaign, thanks

Anonymous said...


Fine web sites but, have you seen this guy?

Anonymous said...

I would like to be on your next retoucher list.

Thanks, -W

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Anonymous said...

Nice article, but incomplete. There are many excellent, highly-skilled retouchers out there doing remarkable work, and your references don't entirely represent that.

I also don't agree that retouchers should publish an hourly rate, unless working on-site at the client's office. Clients are more interested in the total cost and when they can get it, rather than how many hours you spend working on it. It's more important to charge based on what the job is worth, rather than how long it takes.

Anyway, I do appreciate the positive tone of the article. Thanks!

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